Holy sites

lifelong_sinner

Puritan Board Freshman
Hello all. I am looking for some understanding pertaining to worship at Holy sites in Israel, such as Jesus’ birth place, His tomb, etc. is it idolatry when people go there and worship? Should we keep such areas as sacred? I suppose i think about God telling moses in Exodus to take His shoes off at the mountain because it was Holy land.
 

Taylor

Puritan Board Graduate
If I hear God in an audible voice tell me to remove my shoes because I am standing on holy ground, I will go get my head checked because God doesn't speak audibly anymore. Other than that, there are no such things as holy places.
 

jw

Administrator
1. Yes, if they go there so to do because they think the space is holy somehow.
2. No.
3. The land wasn’t holy by some inherent way, but because of the immediate manifest presence of God before Whom Moses was standing.
 

jambo

Puritan Board Senior
I have never been to Israel and would love to go one day. However I think I would be greatly annoyed seeing the so called birth place of Christ, the garden tomb etc. How would people ever know where the exact birth place or tomb was? People are made holy, not places and the actual or supposed birth and burial sites are no more holy than the streets of Nazareth, Capernaum or Jerusalem just because Jesus once walked on them. We should not be treating these sites as sacred and I get the impression that those sites are worshipped particularly in Roman Catholicism.

Moses at the burning bush is a different situation. Moses was in the presence of God and had Moses returned the following day he could have kept his shoes on!
 

RobertPGH1981

Puritan Board Sophomore
Holy sites in Israel, such as Jesus’ birth place, His tomb, etc. is it idolatry when people go there and worship? Should we keep such areas as sacred?

If you go to Bethlehem you will find out that there are over 30 different places claiming to be the birthplace of Jesus. Scholars do not honestly know where in Bethlehem this occurred. I think the reason for this is the same reason God didn't want people to know where Moses was buried (Deuteronomy 34:6).

As a side note, Geneva college goes once every two years. I am not sure if you are able to go without being a student but you could always ask. Pretty affordable and the professors that go are well in tune with the history.
 

therussellhome

Puritan Board Freshman
Building a physical understanding of the places of the Bible makes it easier to connect with those stories. But that neither makes those places holy nor visiting them necessary for understanding the Bible.

Personally, I think I would enjoy visiting Israel but not enough to spend the time or money. I did get to visit Ur during a 2007 military deployment. But those same deployments have soured visiting anywhere in the Middle East.
 

Taylor

Puritan Board Graduate
I would love to see all the historical (not holy) places for some of the events in Scripture. However, I don’t think I would feel safe being in the Middle East right now. And given my typical luck, the day I visit Israel would be the day their iron dome malfunctions or something.
 

jwithnell

Moderator
Staff member
I'd love to go mostly because I think it would be valuable to understand the terrain and geography. (My most-used reference book is a Bible atlas). At the same time I'd be deeply disturbed by the lie that a place is closer to God or that prayer and worship are holier in one place or another. This is antithetical to the Biblical teaching that the Word has gone out to all the earth, that the temple curtain is torn, and that all may now approach God through Jesus' meditation. A friend, who really should have known better, described how "meaningful" it was to have communion at one of the sites while traveling with a group led by a pastor.
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
Many who travel to biblical sites, chiefly in the the so-called "Holy Land" (any which designation expired with the terminus of the Siniatic covenant) do so in terms of pilgrimage. It is this concept that is most problematic, along with the tendency manifest with most such visitors and more than a few who are not pilgrims to engage in rituals they believe are more efficacious or meaningful in proximity.

Robert points out that there can be dozens (!) of places claiming to be the best site on which to land; and frankly many of today's pilgrims have some awareness of the ambiguity and don't stress out--which is not at all comforting to me as an observer. Why?

Although it is something to be thankful for, that exhausted travelers aren't being commonly played for rubes (but it probably still happens too much), most pilgrims are looking for works-righteousness acknowledgement from God for the effort. In other words, they suspect the best to hope for is coming to the vicinity of their target; but they reflect on their effort, expense, patience, virtue-of-one-kind or another--and suppose it will call heaven's notice for God's favor and blessing.

Think of the guy who breaks his leg on the way to the airport for the first leg of his long journey, and never gets out of his hometown. He goes to his priest (or pastor) bemoaning his lost chance. And his comforter cheers him up by reminding him that God knows his heart, and his planned effort counts for something, and his broken bone suffering is the equivalent of climbing the hill on his knees. Besides, another opportunity could come along later....

Middle-class retirees' Holy Land trips mean big tourism bucks. This is the reality. There wouldn't be a huge industry based on a modest few with curiosity or professional interest, going to the M.E. for hands-on encounter with historical geography. People are sold an air-conditioned package that may enhance their convictions a little, and possibly their pride; but it won't bring them closer to God. Most of the journey will not put them for long "in the sandals" of the ancients, who walked almost everywhere they went, for whom a journey of a hundred miles demanded serious investment and dedication to see it through.

As a Bible teacher, I am intensely interested in biblical geography. A recent post here on the PB sent me to the atlas to find out if archaeologists knew where David-era Nob was located, it's proximity to Jerusalem, and how far Jerusalem was from Kirjath Jearim. Knowledge of those three locations, and some appreciation for the effort of primitive travel/transport made for a better post (in my opinion). A lot of work has been, and continues to be done to aid people far removed from the ancient scene to understand the Bible story and its message.

I'd like to end this post with an encouraging word to anyone reading, who is going or may hope to go on such a trip. If God gave you the means and opportunity coupled with the natural desire to see that part of the world, I sincerely want you to have a delightful journey. Please don't make it a pilgrimage, a "spiritual" journey, because it's not and it can't be. If it were, it would offer a spiritual advantage to someone who could afford it, God's gift reserved for the rich. I don't want you to be snared even by the suggestion you have more than a natural privilege.

In fact, God's word goes out of its way to remind us that spiritual blessings are brought near to his saints by God himself. He brings them to us, and we get the best of them when we prioritize gathering with other saints on the Lord's Day to worship him. It is the ordinary means of grace that convey him to us and us to him. There is literally nothing on earth that can add an ounce of real spiritual enhancement beyond this. The wise, noble, great, powerful, rich and sophisticated have no advantages with the kingdom of God, and may have handicaps.

A trip to the "Holy Land" belongs entirely to this world. It is creational, and creation is "good," Gen1:4 etc.; but spiritual is a different category. It is good, even vital to remember the distinction.
 

VictorBravo

Administrator
Staff member
Fountain of Youth in St. Augustine.
Way to burst my bubble. I took a sip of that water back in 1979. All these years, I thought it was working!

I've been to several biblical tourist attractions--all of them when I worked in Iraq in the mid 80s--before our war with them when they were at war with Iran.

So I visited Babylon often. It was partially excavated but abandoned during the Iran war. Tumbleweeds rolled down the great streets. You could see the brick murals depicting horses. It was pretty much how Isaiah described it in 13:20-22.

Also saw Ur. The most striking thing was a tank on a hill pointing east. Lots of sandbags and soldiers.

But the confluence of the Tigres and Euphrates took it to a new level. Completely quiet and beautiful (the rivers, that is). In the parking lot was a boarded up smokeshop with a sign in three languages, Arabic, English, and French: "Abraham Smokes."

There also was a plexiglass-lined box with a rotting stump in it. It was "Abraham's oak." The Iraqi ministry of tourism told us that this was what was left of the tree Abraham sat under before departing Ur. No doubt, it did look old. Kind of like weathered oak remains behind a New England sawmill.

My reverie was interrupted by some Iranian mortars flying overhead. I had heard the front was some 20 miles east, but it sounded closer. Seemed like a good idea to move on.
 
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